Another day at church where we pretend we’re the perfect family. We even pretend in front of God. None of my family confesses to their sins, and I follow suit. I don’t know how to approach asking forgiveness. I’ve never seen it done in my family.
Hypocrites. That’s what we are. What they are. Maybe I’m one too.
The Ten Commandments. That’s what we’re learning today, I guess. Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat, etcetera. I lost off how many sins my family commits. Why are we even allowed in church?
Because church is a hospital for the sinners, not a museum for the saints, I remind myself, as I do often on Sundays.
I hear something behind me and see Dahlia slipping into a pew three rows back with a boy with dark skin. I turn back around, hoping she didn’t--and doesn’t see me. I didn’t think she wasn’t the church type.
The sermon goes on and on. We end with a song and five people to up to the front to get saved, to repent from their sin. I smile and a hole burrows inside of me. Why can’t I do that? Just give it all to God? Just get rid of it all and feel the mercy of his forgiveness?
The lights come back up and the preacher dismisses us from the room. People start shuffling out, some waving to my parents or me. My brother isn’t here. He said he felt sick this morning so he stayed home. Probably a side-effect from not taking his drugs.
“Hey, Barbie,” I hear behind me.
My brain starts to panic as the memory of what she said after dinner spins in my head. Well, at least I know why you’re plastic now. What did she even mean by that? Does she know something?
I say a quick prayer in my head before turning around and smiling.
“Hello, Dahlia,” I smile politely. “I didn’t know you went to church.”
“Why? Because I have purple in my hair?” She snaps.
“No—no, I… I just didn’t know—”
“Uh-huh. Well. Just wanted to say hi.” Her eyes scan the crowds. “Where’s your brother?”
“He’s sick,” I say, knowing it’s the truth.
“Ah,” She smiles and nods. “Whelp, see you around Barbie.”
With that, she’s gone into the crowd. I feel something ignite inside of me as she said the name. Barbie.
I take a breath and shake my head. I’m not going to lose my composure now. I’ve had it for so long… why lose it now?
My parents are waiting for me outside, standing close together but not touching. Not touching at all, if you ask me. Last night broke them. It shows in partially in their faces as I walk up to them, but it fades away as quickly as a car passing by. It’s like it’s not even there.
“Ready to go, Amabel?” My dad smiles as he gives me a one-armed hug. Does he not realize what he’s doing to this family? What he’s doing to my mom? Does he know what my brother does when he’s all alone in the house?
“Your father and I want to go out to eat,” My mother chimes in. Does she know what she’s like when she’s drunk? Does she remember all the bruises she’s given Tobiah and me? Can she smell the weed on his clothes underneath all of his cologne?
“Okay,” I say and clear my throat. “Where are we going?”
Do they not see what they’re doing to me?
“Roadhouse. I’m feeling up for some steak right about now,” My dad chuckles.
I nod and follow behind them slowly to the car as they walk an inch from each other and don’t make any eye contact.
This is my life…
The Roadhouse was good. I had a salad and ate half a hamburger. It’s more than I normally eat, but I needed something for comfort, and food was right there to fill my gaping wound of a life.
I guess it’s time to confess aloud that I don’t eat very much. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because I want my parents to notice what I’m doing or what’s going on inside of me, or if it’s because I’m afraid of being fat (no offence to anyone, I just don’t think I’d look good), or if it’s just because I hate food. I don’t know… I didn’t really start to think about it until Dahlia noticed it that night. I guess I might have a problem, but at least it’s not as bad as it could get, you know?
I text John throughout the day as I plan my week. Prom committee, Spanish club, whatever else… I have no time in the week. Good. That means I won’t think about today, about yesterday, the day before, the past four months and more… My brain can’t handle it.
The next day is Monday, of course it’s a school day, and Dahlia doesn’t stop me at the door again. Not until Friday.
“Dahlia, I have to get to class.”
“I know,” She says, keeping her arm stretched to the other side of the doorway. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“What is it?” I say, trying my best not to look exasperated and to be as polite as humanly possible.
“Dinner at my house.”
“What? Why?” I ask, hoping I didn’t sound too harsh.
“Because I want to show you how a real family works.”
“My family is a real family, Dahlia.”
“Right,” She says sarcastically and takes her hand down. “Are you going to come?”
It’s like she knows I’m going to say yes, which, of course I will. It’s how I was raised. Be polite and give people what they want—to certain extents.
“Sure,” I sigh and smile to cover up my attitude.
“Great,” She draws out the word with a smile on her face. She definitely knows something. “Here’s my address. Be there before seven.”
I nod and take the ripped piece of paper. She knew I was going to say yes.
On the way to Dahlia’s house, I try to suppress any feelings toward my family so they won’t show and so she won’t know any more than she’s supposed to.
Her house is small. She has a small front porch with two rocking chairs on it, a brown door centered on the wall behind it. It’s only one-story and four cars sit outside on the driveway.
I pull up against the curb and get out, looking at the piece of paper to make sure it’s the right house for about the seventeenth time.
Why would she invite me to dinner? I didn’t know anyone else did that these days besides my family.
There are sounds of laughter and conversation coming from inside the house as I reach the steps of the porch. The windows are glowing with light from behind the curtains.
I press the button for the doorbell and hear three chimes. Dahlia answers the door and a cat rushes out.
“Don’t worry about him. He’s an inside-outside cat. Come in.”
Her house is warm and smells of food fill the air. A lot of the furniture seems old and warn and there are pictures of her and her family everywhere.
The dark-skinned boy that went to church that Sunday walks up to Dahlia and she throws an arm around his shoulders.
“This is Tyrice, my brother.”
The boy laughs and messes up her hair. He looks to be about sixteen, and nothing like Dahlia does.
“I’m adopted,” He laughs and looks at me. “Come on. We set a place for you at the table.”
I smile and follow them to the dining room, just past the living room.
A long table sits in the middle of the room, six chairs around it. Three of them are already taken at the far side of the room with a girl about thirteen with dark hair and tan skin, a woman with log brown hair and a man with skin that looks like tanned leather. They stand up and smile at me.
“Hello, you must be Amabel,” The man reaches out for me to shake his hand. “I am head of the household. My name is Jake.”
“We were so glad to hear that Dahlia invited someone over for dinner. No one really does that anymore,” The woman says, making her way around the table. “I’m Cierra.”
She hugs me, and I return it, surprised.
“I hope you enjoy what I cooked tonight,” She laughs as Mr. Jake shakes his head dramatically.
“You’ll hate it.”
He smiles at her as he walks up and she smiles back as he leans down to kiss her. I look down at my feet.
Why can’t my parents be that way?
Right. Because one’s a drunk and the other is cheating.
I shake my head and try to wipe away the tears forming in my eyes discreetly as I’m directed to sit down at the other end of the table as Mr. Jake.
I watch as they bring out the food and set it on the table, not caring if it leaves stains on the old wood. They say a prayer and the room erupts with noise and words and talking. I can feel the hole inside of me start to fill. They talk to each other and to me as if I’m not a stranger, but as if they’ve known me my whole life.
I learn that the thirteen year old girl’s name is Marcy and she was adopted when she was only two years old. Tyrice is, in fact, sixteen, and he was adopted when he was ten.
Mr. Jake and Mrs. Cierra had one child, and that was Dahlia. After her, they weren’t able to have any more kids, but they wanted some. So they started to adopt.
They’ve been married for twenty years, and they don’t seem like they’re going to break apart anytime soon. The way they look at each other is a look that I haven’t seen in my parents’ eyes in years.
“So, Amabel,” Mrs. Cierra asks from the left side of the table, down at the end by Mr. Jake. “What’s your family like?”
The table goes quiet and they look at me as they chew.
Nice things. I have to say nice things.
“Well…” I clear my throat and place the fork down on my plate, suddenly losing my appetite. “My dad’s a doctor.”
“Oh, wow,” Mr. Jake smiles. “You know, I wanted to be a doctor. Now here I am as a dentist. They’re somewhat related, you know.”
I chuckle as Mrs. Cierra tells him to stop talking and listen.
“Well, yeah. He works all of the time. My mom owns a bakery called Doll’s Kitchen. And then my brother, Tobiah, he’s going to get a full scholarship to some college for football.”
“That’s great, Amabel!” Mrs. Cierra smiles. “Well, what about you? What are your plans for the future?”
I look down at my plate and see that I’ve eaten most of my food without realizing it. I never thought about what I’d be in the future.
“She’s like head of everything in our school, mom,” Dahlia says with a mouthful of potatoes. “She could be anything she wanted.”
“Wow, I wish that I was as determined and focused in high school as you are, Amabel,” Her mom smiles.
“I’m in the drama club at school,” Marcy chimes in and takes a bite of a roll. “Are you in that?”
I smile slightly at her as I look up from my food. “Yeah. I’m actually in a play.”
Her eyes widen and a smile slips across her face. “Me too! It’s going on next weekend. I’m so excited. You should come!”
I laugh and nod, picking my fork back up.
“As long as you come to mine in three weeks.”
The night goes on like this, a mixture of questions toward me and questions at each other. I laugh until I cry.
“It’s getting late,” I say, looking at my phone and chuckling from a joke that was told and had me rolling. “I should get home.”
“Oh, alright,” Mr. Jake says as he stands up to take the plates to the kitchen. “It was nice meeting you, Amabel.”
“Very nice indeed,” Mrs. Cierra says as she makes her way over to hug me. She walks me to the door, the posse of children following behind her.
“Do you go to church, Amabel?” She asks as we all step outside into the coolish night.
I nod in response as I dig for the keys to my car in my pocket.
“Great. I would love to meet your parents.”
I drop the keys onto the ground as she says that, my brain jumping for a second.
“Um…” I mumble. “Yeah, sure, of course. We sit in the middle of the, um… the room.”
She smiles and nods, giving me another hug.
“Well, we’ll see you around then, dear.”
I nod and walk to my car, turning back to give a shy wave to the family, the unbroken family, the perfect family. They wave back and call out some goodbyes.
Nobody is home when I pull into the drive. All of the cars are gone. I text my mom to ask where they all were, but she doesn’t answer, of course.
I walk slowly up the stairs to my room, thoughts weighing on my mind. For the moments I spent over at Dahlia’s house, the hole had been filled. I wasn’t empty.
But here it is again, and it feels bigger than ever. What if it never fills?